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Want to be with others for Thanksgiving? Get ready to quarantine.

Staying home and minimizing risks before the holidays can help ensure safer holiday gatherings.
Image: Thanksgiving dinner
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As Thanksgiving approaches, Americans are facing the decision of whether to gather with families and friends, and if so, how to do it safely.

But aside from celebrating with only members of your household, it's very difficult to completely avoid any risk of Covid-19 exposure.

One way to reduce risk, however, is for every single guest to quarantine for two weeks before the holiday, experts say.

Thanksgiving this year falls on Thursday, Nov. 26, so public health experts advise that quarantine should begin this Thursday, Nov. 12.

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The two-week quarantine time frame is called for because that's the length of the virus's incubation period — that is, the time from when a person is exposed to when symptoms develop.

Quarantining for two weeks is a way to ensure that a person does not have the virus and therefore cannot spread it to others. Simply relying on whether you have symptoms, such as a fever or a cough, is not enough, as up to 40 percent of people develop asymptomatic infections, which can spread silently.

It is also possible for people to spread the virus in the few days before they develop symptoms — a phenomenon known as pre-symptomatic spread.

Put simply, quarantining means staying home, away from people outside your household.

Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, agreed that quarantine for all is essential ahead of holiday gatherings.

Any one person who breaks quarantine, McDeavitt said, such as someone who is "going out to bars and restaurants, crowded environments, thinking, 'Well, it's just one time,'" could become infected but remain asymptomatic and unknowingly spread the virus.

He created a holiday checklist with additional tips to prepare for get-togethers. Stock up now, if possible, on essentials to get through the 14-day period and sign up for contact-free grocery shopping for last-minute needs. And, McDeavitt suggested, get tested for Covid-19 five to seven days before Thanksgiving.

For many people, however, a 14-day quarantine is difficult with work and school. And most mitigation efforts do not guarantee that a person will remain infection-free, meaning any holiday gathering comes with some risk. To avoid risk completely, experts say, skipping a Thanksgiving gathering is the only surefire bet. That is likely the safest option for families who want to include elderly people or relatives with weakened immune systems.

"You're going to be helping to protect them," said William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, adding that video chats are ways to stay in touch on important holidays.

"What's more important, seeing your relatives in person on Thanksgiving or keeping them safe?"

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